On 2nd July we were invited to take part in a Democracy Day event at Longley Park Sixth Form in Sheffield. This was a substantial event involving students 60 students from a number of schools across Sheffield to take part in a number of Democracy themed workshops. Dr Andy Mycock provided the opening lecture on ‘Votes at 16 and Young People’s Democracy’ introducing the key discussion issues. We then ran 2 workshops exploring the different attitudes the attendees had towards the voting age. Participants in each focus group were split into smaller groups of 6-8 and given various topics to discuss related to the voting age. Dr Thomas Loughran and Dr Andy Mycock directed the focus groups with groups encouraged to write their thoughts down.
The results were fascinating. It was interesting that while a large majority of participants supported lowering the voting age initially the subsequent discussion revealed more scepticism and doubts about the idea. While some participants were confident in their political knowledge and frustrated about the lack of opportunities they had for political engagement, others saw voting as an additional pressure and burden being applied at an already stressful period in their lives. Brexit was also an interesting dividing line; with some using the Brexit vote as an example of an issue disproportionately impacting on young people which they deserved a vote on. However, more pro-Brexit groups saw it as an example of politicians ignoring the views of the electorate anyway thereby discouraging young people from political engagement.
Other topics covered included citizenship education, confidence in the voting process, the challenges and drawbacks that might emerge with lowering the voting age and the connection between voting and the age of adulthood. It was particularly interesting that the vast majority rejected the relationship between adulthood and voting. They did not see voting as an adult act – most felt they had the right to vote as young people, not because 16 year olds should be classed as adults.
This was a lively and varied discussion and we are grateful for the participants and the audiences for including us in the Democracy Day.